Did you know that Santa Claus receives more than half a million letters each year from children all around the world? Many of these letters include a wish list of toys and/or other things the children would like Santa to bring them on Christmas. I remember how as a little girl I myself wished Santa to bring me either a baby sister or a puppy, and how disappointed I was when I got neither. I simply could not understand why Santa would not keep his side of the deal even though I was certain of meeting the condition of “being a good girl”. I cannot claim it was this incident that got me applying to law school but after studying law I finally understand what went wrong with my agreement with Santa Claus.
According to the Finnish law (which I think Santa applies since he operates from Finland), there needs to be two separate acts before an agreement becomes binding: a proposal and a congruent acceptance of that proposal . No papers are needed. The proposal and the acceptance can both be given orally. However, an oral agreement might cause difficulties later if a dispute arises and the parties want to show what was agreed and on which terms. Therefore, lawyers tend to recommend written agreements.
According to the principles of contract law, an unspecified advertisement or another type of marketing directed to a vast crowd of people is not considered a binding proposal. Even though in some cases special weight has been given to the justified believes of the addressees, I don’t think in my case the stories about Santa Claus bringing gifts to well-behaved children would have been regarded as a binding proposal by him to bring me the specific things I asked for. As in many cases concerning marketing campaigns, I think they would have been considered more as an invitation for me to make a proposal – which I did.
Accordingly, in my case, the wish list was the initial proposal. In principle, the proposal starts binding its sender after the addressee has had the possibility to familiarize with it. This basically means that after Santa had read my wish list I could no longer have changed my wish from a baby sister to a baby brother (some exceptions to this rule exists but I will deal with them another time).
When a binding proposal has been made, the addressee must send a congruent acceptance in due course to create a binding agreement. The time limit for acceptance might be defined in the proposal itself. If there is no time limit set, the acceptance must be given within reasonable time. When the sender of the initial proposal receives the congruent acceptance, the agreement becomes binding. The terms defined in the initial proposal form the applicable terms of the agreement.
It is worth highlighting, that If the acceptance is not congruent but entails i.e. new terms (i.e. Santa’s general terms of service), it is not considered an acceptance but a completely new proposal. In this case the sender of the initial proposal needs to accept the new proposal for the agreement to become binding.
In my case, the problem clearly was the fact that Santa Claus never replied to my proposal. I can never be sure whether my initial proposal got lost in the mail or Santa Claus received it and just decided not to accept it. So the lesson: if you want Santa to bring you a puppy, make sure to get a written letter of acceptance to your proposal.
Law, Sini from our DR team